November 21st

China is one of the least free countries in the world as far as internet is concerned.  Facebook, Google and Twitter are all blocked here and more recently, WhatsApp was also banned.  Now, they’re talking about taking Skype out of the Chinese app stores, which is bad for us because Skype is essential for Dave to do his job.  It’s also how we keep in touch with people back home.

The idea is that by blocking these apps, the government can better control the information their citizens are receiving.  Until they are able to effectively block every VPN though, it’s a bit of a pointless task.  People will always find a way to post bad memes, after all.  

Of course, China isn’t without social media.  WeChat and QQ are the most used programs out here.  Several of my friends and family members have downloaded wechat over the past few years, which makes my life easier.  

WeChat is amazing on so many levels.  It’s primarily a chat platform but it also has “Moments” (essentially like a FB wall) and all sorts of other nifty features that can make life better.

I can transfer money, pay my bill at a restaurant, top up my cellphone and call a DiDi (basically Uber), all through WeChat.  I can also subscribe to news articles and get connected with other Canadians, teachers or musicians through group chats.

  Best of all, the app runs extremely well (if you’re in China), unlike many other Chinese websites and programs that are bogged down with advertisements.

Most recently, I discovered “WeRun”.  I’ve paired my Xiao Mi step counter to WeChat and throughout the day it updates and shows me how I’m comparing to all my WeChat friends.

Today, I won 😀.

November 20th

This is a pile of Durian.

They love durian in Asia.  Everywhere you go, you’ll find durian cakes and durian sweets.  I’ve seen whole shops dedicated to things made of durian.  It’s a kind of fruit and I’ve seen stacks of it like this all over China and SE Asia.

I feel like durian is an essential part of the Asian experience, and if you come to Asia and never see (or rather, smell) it, you haven’t really experienced Asia properly.  

What makes durian so interesting (and gross) is its smell.  If one person eats one chunk of the stuff across the room from you… you will smell it.  I can always tell when a fruit market is up ahead, because the smell of Durian is unmistakable.  It smells kind of like old socks and citrus. 

It’s so bad, in fact, that everywhere we went in Thailand, we saw signs forbidding this spikey fruit in hotel rooms and taxis.  The way Canadian hotel owners worry about cigarette smoke lingering in their rooms…. Asian hoteliers worry about Durian.

I think I’ll stick with fruit that doesn’t smell like death….

November 19th

Saturday night, after walking 4km in the cold, we decided to grab some food before heading back to the hotel.  

Finding food at 11pm on a Saturday night can be tricky business in Shanghai.  The places that are open are almost always dingy, but every now and then you get lucky and find some decent grub.

One trick I’ve learned over the last few years is to look for Halal restaurants.  They are always much cleaner than regular restaurants because cleanliness is a big part of what makes a food Halal.  An added bonus is that Muslim food in China is FANTASTIC.

There’s quite a large Muslim population in China, so you’ll find Halal restaurants in any city.  I recommend pretty much anything they serve.  

November 18

There are plenty of reasons why I love Suzhou.  It’s a beautiful, clean, modern city with plenty of conveniences.  We live comfortably here and really enjoy the life we’ve built.  

Many expats choose to live in bigger cities, like Shanghai and Beijing.  Neither Dave nor I have ever really seen the appeal.  Shanghai alone has a bigger population then many countries.  It’s crowded, smelly, noisy and generally unpleasant… But living nearby that massive metropolis does have its advantages.

Cirque du Soleil has been doing a show there for about a month now.  Dave and I and our friends CJ and Kim decided to make the 25 minute trip down to good ‘ol Shanghai to enjoy the show.  This was my 5th Cirque du Soleil Show, and it did not let me down.  

It’s good having friends to do things like this with.  It’s great that we can afford to spend the weekend in Shanghai to see an incredible Canadian company wow Chinese audiences.  

I hope Cirque comes back soon so I can see my 6th show 😉

November 17th

This is the hallway outside my office at school.  As you can see, the hallway is mostly open to the outdoors.  Many schools in China are designed this way.

On a warm sunny day, this doesn’t really affect me, but on days like today, when it’s cold and rainy…. My office is also cold and rainy.  

Kids come in and out all day and usually leave the door open.  Even after we (the expat staff) installed an automatic door closer, several of the teachers have taken to propping the door open with a magnet to “let the fresh air in”.  The results are discomfort, damp homework and grouchiness.  

I don’t know why schools are designed this way.  It’s often quite dangerous.  The floors were wet with rainwater all day today and I nearly slipped twice.  Students routinely go running down these halls and I’m constantly worried someone is going to get hurt.  

November 15th

Today we held our first Writing Center session.

A few weeks ago, one of the home room teachers approached me with an idea to launch a writing mentor program for some of the IG1 students.

These grade 7 students come to me with strong oral English, but their writing skills haven’t really been developed.  They’ve learned basic grammar, of course, but don’t have much practice using it in written form until they reach middle school.  This means I have a year and a half to teach them how to pass a Cambridge exam.

What makes my department unique is that we have students in grade 8, writing an exam meant for grade 10 students.  It’s a tall order for a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds, but we make it work.  I am actually very proud to say that my grade 8 class last year actually beat the grade 10 students in another department who wrote the exact same exam.

So when Tracy asked me if I’d help set up a tutoring program and pair up her grade 7 students with my strongest grade 8&9 students… I jumped on the opportunity.

Today was our first class.  I chose 7 students from IG1 who I knew needed some help, and paired them with some volunteers.  The results were fantastic.  They worked together for the entire 40 minute lunch period and several students made arrangements to meet again outside of the Writing Center because they had run out of time but wanted to finish helping their mentees.

I teach the coolest kids.

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November 14th

Dave and I have been taking a lot of walks lately.  We’ve both been working a tonne (as we tend to do), and taking a walk at night allows us to catch up.  I think that’s important.

On those walks, we talk about our days and we discuss the news and what’s blowing up on social media.  Sometimes I take pictures of ridiculous or interesting things I see.

The funny thing about my feature picture today is that I took it because of the “Honey Babe” sign, but when I looked at the photo a few days later, I noticed so much more.

The photo is from right outside Euromart.  I take money out at the little red ATM booth in the middle of the photo.  I’ve bought noodles from the little restaurant on the left (they weren’t very good).  I’ve walked across that square at least a hundred times and I never noticed how pretty it is at night.

Also, there’s a sign for a bar named “Honey Babe”.  That’s pretty funny too.